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Yasujiro Ozu (#110 of 17)

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014

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Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014
Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014

A specter is haunting Bologna. The 28th annual Bologna Ritrovato kicked off on June 28, the 100-year anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by a Serbian nationalist. The legacies of the Great War of the 20th century marked the curating for a retrospective film festival opening onto the 21st. The “Cento Anni Fa” program—an entire retrospective dedicated to showing films made one century ago—has always been a special attraction at the Ritrovato. One hundred years ago, film production trends were shifting from the single-reel short films of early cinema to multi-reel serials and narrative features. This year, given the pointed historical significance of 1914, “100 years ago” became a broader thematic focus of the 2014 festival, in addition to an archival treasure trove for the “Cento Anni Fa” program.

Indeed, the curating options both of and about 1914—a cinematic world on the precipice of industrial self-destruction—inflected a century’s worth of programming, from Turkish travelogues from the 1910s, and pacifist melodramas like Lay Down Your Arms! (Holger-Madsen, 1914), to an entire program of WWII films thematizing Hitler impersonators. Forget The Great Dictator or To Be or Not to Be, and open your eyes to The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler (James P. Hogan, 1943), My Crimes After Mein Kampf (Alexandre Ryder, 1940), and The New Adventures of Schweik (Sergei Yutkevich, 1943). Of course, retrospective film curating wasn’t the only site of a fraught internationalism on display at the festival. Is irony an appropriate descriptor for the scene of festival masses shirking a tearjerker about the universal evils of war in order to rally around a television screen at a local Irish pub and scream their hearts out for France and Germany to humiliate their national enemies at football?

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival
The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival

I emerged out of the train station and onto the roiling snake pit of Hollywood Boulevard this past Thursday afternoon with a singularity of purpose that has served well those who have learned to safely navigate this peril-ridden stretch of tourism and other desperate forms of humanity. Among the mass of logy sidewalk gawkers, shaggily costumed superheroes, and barkers hawking coupons for bus tours and free drinks at comedy clubs, the guy in the Creamsicle-colored tuxedo and matching top hat didn’t even cause me to balk as he moved toward me on the sidewalk. He certainly didn’t seem out of place, even as his lanky, six-and-a-half-foot frame towered above the stumpier heights of most everyone else bobbling down the Walk of Fame. But as we passed each other, this orangey giant suddenly offered up a loud, impassioned plea to the crowd, for no readily apparent reason, which put me at attention: “Remember Bob Hope!” Wondering if a declaration of fond tribute for, say, Mickey Rooney would have been timelier, I moved right along. No matter. There could be no doubt, if there ever was any, that the 2014 edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival, headquartered as always in the very heart of the mythological realm of Hollywood, was now officially under way, a gathering of film buffs vacationing from the real world among the icons and memories of movie-studio glory, where there would be no lack of warm remembrance for Hope or Rooney or any of a hundred other stars whose images and talents would be ceaselessly evoked and reminisced upon over the next four days.

Cannes Film Festival 2013: Like Father, Like Son Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Like Father, Like Son</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Like Father, Like Son</em> Review

It’s become more and more rare in contemporary cinema for a filmmaker to not only revisit thematic territory, but to essentially re-examine the same basic narrative dynamic from different angles. It’s a tack few filmmakers continue to utilize, perhaps to avoid accusations of redundancy, but Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda has made the most of his purposefully modest cinematic constructs. Like Father, Like Son, his latest in a long line of unassuming family dramas, is one of his most heartbreaking works yet.

History As Thriller Daisuke Miyao’s The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema

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History As Thriller: Daisuke Miyao’s The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema
History As Thriller: Daisuke Miyao’s The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema

Film-history texts can often be dull, lack real insight beyond a litany of factual information, and plod along to foregone conclusions, structured as simply a lecture, where content overrides form. Daisuke Miyao’s The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema isn’t only an exception to these rules, but establishes a benchmark for which contemporary film-history research should aim. What separates Miyao from the rest? Numerous qualities, but above all, he’s constructed a historical work that isn’t simply another recasting of Japanese film, replete with a discussion of numerous auteurs and production stories as evidence; rather, Miyao is after the heart of the matter—the very circumstances, through Hollywood and Japanese interaction, which cultivated predominant visual styles, and how these processes of “transnational and cross-cultural negotiation” ultimately yielded certain aesthetic expectations, from producers and viewers alike. Moreover, he achieves this, at least in part, by structuring his scholarship as more of a thriller, than merely the standard (and soporific) fact-upon-fact approach.

Miyao’s begins with a fluid, though rigorous foundation of previous historians and theoreticians, which he appropriates in order to weave together his complex historiographies. Drawing upon the likes of film studies staples such as David Bordwell, Stuart Hall, and Noël Burch, but not simply trotting out their arguments as stand-alone methodologies, Miyao instead juxtaposes and employs them as means to unpack the geographical explanations that are central to linking an aesthetic (and its invention) with a specific time period, particularly on an international scale. Thus, Miriam Hansen’s “vernacular modernism” and Harry Harootunian’s “coeval modernity” are ultimately the kinds of historicizing concepts that compel his line of questioning—especially Haroontunian’s, which Miyao values for its emphasis on “contemporaneity yet the possibility of difference.” Nevertheless, though I have made Miyao’s setup appear to be thoroughly academic (in a theoretical sense), fear not: The bulk of Miyao’s work revolves around historical figures within a system, with recourse to numerous film titles and close-readings. Herein lies Miyao’s keenest eye; rather than having to consistently recall terms and provide extended definitions, the analysis balances the individual and the international. If there were something akin to an academic page-turner, Miyao has produced it here.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time

There are simply too many amazing films—thousands, really—that could occupy every slot on this list just as confidently as the ones that are here. So I chose great ones that, whether or not it was the authors’ intent, protest the way systems, traditions and institutions threaten to break or trap individuals. Some celebrate how people manage to hold onto themselves or each other during the assault. Others dramatize defeat (see numbers five, six, nine, and 10). This quality in movies is more desperately needed right now and more enduring over time than such film critic checklist items as technical virtuosity and screenplay structure. The vast majority of people who watch movies are the ones who bear the yoke, and last century’s problem was too many films made to satisfy those who wield the whip. We, the people, are still stuck in that false reality of virtual freedom, every time we turn on the TV, click through a corporate banner ad, or look up and see more billboard than sky.